Delimitation in J&K: Improving State Governance or an Unfair Move?

With Union Home Minister Amit Shah setting the ball rolling on matters under his newly acquired portfolio, speculation is rife over the possibility of delimitation being carried out in the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly.

While Home Ministry officials deny any government-level discussion on the matter, news reports are speculating that Shah has already set up a commission to undertake the exercise.

Meanwhile, politicians in Jammu and Kashmir are split on the merits of delimitation, with some questioning why the state is being singled out for this measure.

Here’s a look at what delimitation means and how such a move would affect J&K.

What is Delimitation and Who is Tasked With It?

Delimitation refers to the fixing of limits or boundaries of Assembly or parliamentary constituencies in a country or province having a legislative body. The exercise basically redraws the scope and size of segments and determines the number of seats to be reserved for Scheduled Castes.

This is a process which is usually carried out every few years in order to ensure that every constituency has a similar number of voters.

The job of delimitation is given to a commission set up specifically for this task, called the Delimitation Commission, a body whose orders are legally binding and cannot be questioned in any court of law, according to the Election Commission. While copies of the orders can be laid before Parliament and the concerned State Legislative Assembly, neither can suggest any modifications.

These orders come into force on a date to be specified by the President of India.

The body itself comprises of a retired or sitting judge of the Supreme Court, the Chief Election Commissioner or an Election Commissioner nominated by the Chief Election Commissioner, as well as the election commissioner of the state in which delimitation is being carried out.

Apart from that, five MPs and five MLAs of the state are also chosen as associate members of the commission, according to the provisions of the Delimitation Act.

Also Read: Amit Shah Briefed on J&K, Officials Deny Discussing Delimitation

Delimitation in the Past and the Freeze

Delimitation is usually carried out after every Census, when Parliament enacts a Delimitation Act under Article 82 of the Constitution.

Delimitation Commissions have been constituted four times – in 1952 under the Delimitation Commission Act, 1952, in 1963 under the Delimitation Commission Act, 1962, in 1973 under the Delimitation Act, 1972 and again in 2002 under the Delimitation Act, 2002, according to Election Commission data.

The present delimitation of constituencies has been done on the basis of data from the 2001 census in 2002.

However, in 2002, the Constitution of India was specifically amended to freeze delimitation of constituencies across states in India till the census after 2026, meaning that the present constituencies are supposed to remain in operation till the first census after 2026.

This was done because it was realised that since seats were allotted in accordance with population of the state, those which took a lead in population control faced the prospect of their number of seats getting reduced, while states with higher population figures stood to gain.

Anticipating this development, the Parliament passed an amendment during the Emergency years in 1976, freezing all delimitation as per the 1971 census, up to the census of 2001. In 2002, this deadline was again extended to 2026, writes TK Viswanathan in The Hindu. Thus, only after 2026 will there be a consideration about changing the number of seats in Parliament, which are frozen since 1971, according to economist and public policy scholar Ajit Ranade, in an article for Livemint.

Also Read: Government toys with Delimitation Commission in J&K

In Context: Jammu and Kashmir

The Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir, enacted in 1957, was based on the Maharaja's Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir of 1939, which was still in force.

After Kashmir’s accession to India, Sheikh Abdullah's administration arbitrarily carved out 30 seats for the Jammu region, 43 seats for the Kashmir region and two seats for Ladakh region, an IANS report said.

This regional disparity has remained thereafter, with Kashmir having 46 seats, Jammu having 37 and Ladakh, four.

During Ghulam Nabi Azad's term as Chief Minister, between 2005-08, he recommended a proposal of an all-round increase of 25 percent in the number of Assembly seats of all three geographical regions in the J&K. This would have resulted in an additional 22 constituencies in the Assembly. But the PDP-Congress, lacking two-thirds majority in the Assembly, was unable to push it, while the National Conference opposed the plan, the IANS report said.

The last time a delimitation exercise took place in the state was in 1995, at a time when the state was under President's Rule. Before that, delimitation on a provisional basis was done in 1993 by Governor Jagmohan when the state was divided into 87 Assembly constituencies.

Also Read: As BJP Promises to Annul Article 35A, Here’s What It is All About

Demands for Delimitation in J&K

The Farooq Abdullah government in 2002 had amended the state Constitution, freezing delimitation till 2026, PTI reported. This brought J&K on par with other states of India.

However, the J&K BJP has been raising the demand for delimitation in the state since 2008, during the Amarnath land row.

According to the state BJP, the aim of this exercise is to correct the alleged inequity and regional disparity in the Jammu region, with the region getting a larger share of seats in the 87-member state Assembly.

More seats for Jammu would lead to better governance, a Home Ministry official told The Print. The official added that this would ensure that the Valley would no longer be able to dominate the political scenario.

“Delimitation is essential for a robust political system and to ensure that there is no political fallout,” the official said. According to him, it has been a long-standing demand of the people of Jammu as they believe they do not get equal representation.

However, the apex court in 2010 upheld the freeze imposed by the J&K government till 2026 and dismissed the plea that it violated the "basic structure" of the state constitution.

Nonetheless, according to legal experts, the 2002 amendment to the Constitution can be struck down by Governor Satya Pal Malik although it requires a concurrence of Parliament within six months after passing such an ordinance, PTI reported.

Also Read: Here’s What You Need to Know About Article 35A of the Constitution

PDP, JKNC Oppose Move; Congress, BJP Bat for It

Any possibility of delimitation being carried out in J&K has been vehemently opposed by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the Jammu & Kashmir National Conference (JKNC), which are the two biggest parties in the state.

Former chief minister Omar Abdullah tweeted, saying the freeze on delimitation has been applied to the entire country until 2026.

Abdullah added that the JKNC would oppose the move “tooth and nail” till delimitation takes place in the rest of the country.

PDP president Mehbooba Mufti tweeted that she is "distressed” to hear about the Government of India’s plan to redraw assembly constituencies in J&K.

However, the J&K BJP general secretary Ashok Kaul welcomed any move for carrying out a delimitation in the state and said, "We have strongly raised it in the past that this exercise should be undertaken. It was also listed in the agenda of alliance with the PDP."

“We urge the governor to set up delimitation commission to end discrimination with Jammu region and it should be carried out before assembly elections,” Kaul said, reported PTI.

Former Deputy Chief Minister and BJP leader Kavinder Gupta also welcomed the move to give better representation to the Jammu region.

"Jammu region has more population and area when compared to the Valley. Delimitation was frozen by the National Conference to ensure that they have a political edge over the people of Jammu," Gupta said.

The Congress’s J&K arm also batted for delimitation in Jammu and Kashmir and said the process should be completed in shortest possible time.

"Party favours early delimitation in a time-bound manner and completion of the process before the conduct of Assembly elections in the state," JKPCC chief spokesperson Ravinder Sharma said in Jammu.

“Since the BJP government at the Centre has absolute majority and the state is under President’s rule, let them initiate the process immediately and complete it before the assembly polls,” Sharma added.

(With inputs from PTI and IANS.)

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